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An Apology

28 Apr

It took me a little while to find you. As we drifted apart, I let the pictures of you fade away too. One by one. The ones I kept accessible were only to remind me that I was better off without you.

For a long time, I regarded you with pity and dismay, then contempt for everything you did to spite and hurt me, and at long last indifference. A numb acceptance that you existed as a part of my history.

But I never loved you. Maybe in brief, fleeting moments I remembered something funny you said, or the way that you didn’t pay much attention to what anyone thought of your sense of style.

If I let you in, even for a second, I might think you weren’t so bad. I might feel loss.

I might remember that there were good times. And that you fought courageous battles that would have brought others to their knees. I might see the dark circles under your eyes the day after you stayed on the phone with a friend through the whole night, because she told you she wanted to kill herself.

You wrote every day, religiously, fiendishly. Filling up notebooks and journals without worrying about deadlines, word counts, style manuals, opinions, or critics. You paid none of it any mind and allowed that creativity to energize you, even at the darkest moment. Even the worst day of your life (almost a decade and a half ago), you wrote in that notebook until three pens were dry and your hand was so cramped you wore a wrist brace to school for two days.

I missed that drive.

And that is all it took. I felt you seeping into my heart, wheedling your way in and begging for my attention. Every time you have come to me like this in the past, pushing into the corners of my heart, I rejected you with anger, indifference, pride…anything to show you that I didn’t need you.

This time I just heaved a sigh and asked, “What do you WANT?”

You were silent. You looked down and I knew everything you felt. You were telling yourself all the reasons that you shouldn’t have come, you’re not worth anything, you’re not good enough….

That’s my script. I wrote that.

All of the things others told you, I reiterated a thousand times, branded them into your heart and left deep, painful scars.

And I realized suddenly that of all the tormentors you had, I was the worst. All this time I rejected and cast you aside for hurting me, letting me down, making me lonely. Meanwhile I shouted at you, struck you, and shackled you. Every day, I reiterated the world’s message that you simply were

Not. Good. Enough.

Finally I looked at you through tears. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I love you. I love you as you are. You are important. You matter.”

And so today on this eleventh anniversary of my gastric bypass, I celebrate YOU.

aidswalk 012

AIDS Walk Pittsburgh 2004

Every time this anniversary comes around, I focus on how far I have come and been so proud of how I’ve pushed you into the past. And I owe you an apology. Because even though I made that decision to give this vessel a better shot at carrying me around for more years of life on earth, you never deserved the hate I threw at you. You didn’t need one more person to remind you that your round shape was unwelcome.

And so here I stand. I am not at the lowest weight I’ve ever been. In fact, I didn’t want to remember my anniversary today. Because maybe I’m scared that I’ll never really feel “victorious” over the weight problems we’ve had.

But I never stood in a Bikram class in a bra top and shorts at that lowest weight—the confidence wasn’t there, and I do it now with great pride. (I can demo a mighty fine kapalabathi breath because you can see that whole belly move.) A student told me he felt welcome in class with me because I explained things practically and used anatomy cues. Another told me that she felt relaxed because I moved “like a graceful yoga swan” but I looked like “a real person.” Granted, we are all real people, but if you look at publications like Yoga Journal, you might recognize the mold that pop culture has tried to create for the Western yoga practitioner. My personal favorite was the student who said to me, “Oh my god, no one has ever told me I could reach and move my belly flesh out of the way in a seated twist. I actually twisted!” Those were all things I learned from you. I remembered what you felt like in that first yoga class as an obese woman.

I’ve come home and cried to Joe on occasion, “What do I have to offer that someone else can’t do a thousand times better?” Even I fall into that trap of thinking that I’m not worthy to be in the seat of the teacher because I can’t float up into arm balances gracefully or fold my legs into lotus. And again I have to go back to all of those words I say in class. “This is not about how many postures you do, how deeply you go into them, or how strong you are. It is about finding a ‘steady, comfortable seat’ in any shape you take. All you need to do to figure out what that means is listen to your breath. If it’s even and calm, you’re just as deep in the posture as anyone else. What is a steady comfortable seat for you at this present moment?”

Sometimes when I feel unsure of myself as a teacher, I imagine you standing there, proud and tall. All of the weight hanging off of your bones, and you don’t care because this place is safe. This room is sacred. This yoga is for everyone. And I would say to you, dearest 18 year-old Neen…

Welcome home.

Listening to music in Faneuil Hall - April 2004

Listening to music in Faneuil Hall – April 2004

Neen’s Notes is BACK (with cookies)!

16 Jan

Almost a year after quietly fading away, here I am. So what happened?


Yoga Teacher Training Graduation, March 2014.

Yoga Teacher Training Graduation, March 2014.

Okay, you want details. After I finished yoga teacher training at the end of March 2014, there was a void. It was a steady, dull ache that huddled in my heart and reminded me constantly of how much I missed the long weekends learning about yoga with kind souls. I grasped at every opportunity I could to take classes from my friends (now amazing yoga teachers!), but I couldn’t get grounded. Things at work were really challenging. The organization where I worked had gone through huge transitions in procedures and leadership, and the growing pains got more palpable with time. Every time one fire started to die out, another blazed in its place. There was sadness within me that I couldn’t shake, but I did my best to keep grinding forward.

As we do each spring, Joe and I made our grand return to Boston for PAX East in April and that was when everything started to change. While we were away, two local studios emailed me and offered me yoga teaching jobs, and one of them offered to hire me to do some writing work for their website and blog. That night I was sitting at a panel event hosted by the team from Giant Bomb. All of the panelists and their guests were having fun—they’d found a way to take their joy and make a living doing it. I decided that night to leave my office job.

In Boston for PAX 2014, the weekend it all began!

In Boston for PAX 2014, the weekend it all began!

The next few months were an insane experiment. At the beginning, I only had one or two classes a week that were permanent, so I took substitute teaching positions as often as possible. I spent the rest of my time writing about yoga for a studio blog, and studying therapeutic yoga as a way to expand and continue my training. I wrote class plans, built a website, found a graphic designer to create a logo, started developing a social media presence on Instagram and YouTube, and began to teach myself the ways of Adobe Premiere Pro for video editing (oh we have a ways to go together). And I read. I devoured yoga books, always looking for things to share with my students.

It was not and is not a linear experience. In July, the studio that hired me to write for their blog decided to take their student outreach in a different direction, and at the same time another studio cancelled two of my classes because of low attendance. I was crushed. Maybe I’m not actually cut out for this. I was having some health issues too, and felt frustrated and overwhelmed by everything.

I started to really question myself and did some serious svadhyaya (self-reflection in yoga practice). They say comparison is the thief of joy, but it is also the creator of doubt. I saw my friends in crazy arm balances and strength poses that I didn’t have in my practice and thought, “I can’t offer that to my students. How can I possibly be a good yoga teacher?”

The answer came quietly: You do you.

Instead of focusing on what wasn’t there, I remembered my friends during teacher training telling me that they wished they could just lay in savasana and listen to my voice. It is round, rich, and warm. It is probably my favorite quality about my physical self. So I started using that—sharing a soft chant while students were in a restorative pose or reading a poem during our break between standing and seated poses. People smiled. They thanked me for an experience.

I reminded myself of the importance of maintaining a beginner’s mindset. I was intimidated when I came to yoga by all of the strength and flexibility around me. The teachers I returned to were those who took that away, the ones who offered variations so everyone could try something, and who encouraged students to own their practice. Those are the people I thought, and still think of, when I stand at the front of the room. I decided (rather radically for me) to love myself unconditionally. I looked in the mirror and said aloud, “I love you.” Nothing else needed to be said.

When I let go of trying to be what I thought I needed to be, my confidence grew. I was me when I stood up, and not anyone else. Sure, teachers beg, borrow, and steal cues from one another all the time. That’s the amazing thing about yoga—there is always, always, always something more to learn. Part of the reason I love social media is because the Instagram community is chock full of talented, smart yogis who share their journeys. It makes me feel so connected and whole knowing that we are all in this together, all working together.

And here it is, 2015. I finished my graduate certificate in nutrition in the fall, I’m teaching yoga seven days a week, and have learned to just ride this wave. Classes will ebb and flow, but there is always more to learn and there is always an outlet to share it with others. I’m making my own way and living life on my own terms. It is not always easy and I do still feel twinges of doubt or the urge to control, but more and more I am learning to breathe through it. Life happens one moment at a time.

The universe has put me exactly where I need to be, and I trust that. I have faith. I am welcoming it in, and I hope you’ll join me.

And because this is, after all, Neen’s Notes, I also have cookies!

Over 6 years of Notes, and I never shared my favorite cookie recipe with you: Shortbread. Shame on me.

How lame is that? The truth is that it’s such a simple recipe that I never thought to share it. And then I was making a batch last week and thought that of all the things I make, it is pretty much the embodiment of those words: You do you. (Well, me doing me, but that sounds strange.)

Why? A few reasons. First of all, it’s pretty much pie dough with a slightly different method. And if you know anything about this blog, you know my love for pastry dough runs deep. Secondly, it’s four ingredients that I always have in the house. That’s it. And third of all, in encapsulates my loves of recipe manipulation and kitchen science, because I tried a whooooooole lot of shortbread recipes (tough job), and then made up my own based on knowing exactly what I was trying to achieve in terms of texture and flavor. For me, the perfect shortbread is crisp, but flaky on the inside.

Let’s do it.

Crisp Shortbread Cookies


  • 4.5 oz. (9 tbsp.) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • Heavy ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • *Optional: 2 tbsp. corn starch. Adding cornstarch to your flour will make these ultra-snappy and crispy. Especially ideal if you want to use these as sandwich cookies or plan to ice them. It gives them sturdiness without making them tough.
  • *Optional: Sprinkles!

Team Shortbread


Preheat an oven to 325 degrees F.

Combine the flour and salt (and cornstarch if using it) in a bowl and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy and smooth.


Nice and fluffy, buy you can taste to be “sure”.

Slowly add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar, mixing slowly and just until pieces of dough start to adhere together. Pour this on to a clean surface.


Bring the dough together with your hands and knead just until smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and rest the dough in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.


Smooth and ready to wrap/roll.

Lightly flour a counter and roll the dough out until it’s about a 1/4 in. thick, and cut out shapes as desired. I used a fluted 1 ½ in. biscuit cutter and got 2 dozen cookies.


Any shape will work, but if there are a lot of fine edges, roll the dough a bit thicker.

Put the cookies on a baking sheet with about ½ in. of space between them. They won’t spread very much. Here you can add sprinkles if you like.


Ready to bake.

Bake the cookies on a rack in the middle of the oven for about 17 minutes, or until the edges are lightly golden.





Sparkling shortbread, yum.


Mmm, so flaky inside.

 And that is the delicious, and dare I say very happy, return of Neen’s Notes. It’s good to be back.

Ciao for now,


Meet Your Feet

11 Nov

Feet. Boy do feet get ignored. I never realized this until I started going to therapeutic yoga and my teacher Marianne had us do toe exercises. We sat with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. The exercises started off simple, “Lift your big toe up and keep your little toes down,” and progressed often to strange places like, “Big toe down, little toe down, three middle toes up. Okay, big toe and little toe up, three middle toes down!”

Go ahead. I’ll wait while you try that. Oh, and breathe. Breathing is important.

Hard, isn’t it? Our toes, like our fingers, should be able to move independently of one another. But unlike our fingers, our toes are constantly wrapped up inside socks or shoes and rarely experience full sensation or range of motion. Marianne told us not be discouraged, because with consistent practice those neural pathways between the brain and toes could be re-awakened.

Yoga gets you back in touch with your feet and toes relatively quickly. Whether it’s hooking your big toe with the first two fingers and thumb in a balance, grabbing the soles of the feet for happy baby or cobbler’s pose, or shifting weight to/grounding through different parts of the foot, we tend to focus on feet a lot. That’s because every asana, pranayama, and meditation requires a solid base of support. In order to find the “easy comfortable seat” in practice, we must first be able to feel grounded.

When I want to stretch and strengthen my toes and feet simultaneously, I like to flow through variations of utkatasana (awkward pose / chair pose) that require strength and stabilization through the ankles, feet, and toes, but also require pliability in the toes and general lengthening of the foot muscles. Try the sequence below, flowing through it three times.

If you have trouble with the balance, do the sequence with a wall behind you. Not only will it assist balance, it will also help you find the perfect alignment for a nice, straight spine throughout. You can also try the sequence with feet flat on the floor to learn the breathing cues before adding the tip-toes.

Cues for the breath are below the video.

Inhale, and come high up on the toes and bring the arms up parallel to the floor.

As you exhale, slowly begin to sit down on the tops of the toes, keeping the spine long and upright. Press the heels forward, bringing more weight toward the first and second toe to keep the ankles or heels from splaying outward.

Engage the inner thigh muscles and pull the navel back toward the spine. Take a full inhale. On the exhale, slowly begin to hinge at the hips until the torso comes into line with the hips.

Keep sinking the hips low, pushing the heels forward, and drawing the lower abdominals in. Bring the arms alongside the body with palms facing down, or interlace hands behind the back and lift them up on an inhale for a shoulder stretch.

To release, inhale and slowly hinge back up from the hips, engaging the core through the heels, inner thighs, and abdominal muscles.  Return the arms to the parallel position. Hold the upright pose through the exhale.

Inhale, and come high up on the toes with straight legs, and exhale to release to tadasana (mountain pose).

The keys to working through this sequence from the bottom up are:

Ground all of the toes. Really feel as if you are “plugging in” to the ground.

Press the heels forward firmly throughout and let the toes bend.

Engage the inner thighs (as if you were squeezing a ball or block between the legs) to keep the legs in line with the hips and feet.

Pull in the lower abdominals and draw the navel back toward the spine.

Lengthen through the spine. Traction from tailbone all the way through the crown of the head.

Broaden the back and retract the shoulder blades to keep an open chest and lots of space for your even breaths in and out of the nose.

Squeeze all five fingers together. It might seem silly, but this forces the arms to engage all the way through the finger tips and stabilizes their position.

Breathe evenly. The steadier the breath, the steadier the balance.

Steady your gaze. In the upright position, the gaze is ahead. As you fold, slowly shift the gaze to a point on the floor between your toes.

Above all, have fun! It’s just practice and play.
Try more utkatasana variations and standing poses with me at Hot Hatha Detox on Mondays at 10 am, or Hot Hatha Classic on Wednesdays at 6 am and Fridays at 4:15 pm at Mind Your Body Oasis.

“Find a Comfortable Seat…”

23 Aug

This is one of those yoga teacher phrases I used to internally roll my eyes at when I was first practicing yoga. If you started practicing after prolonged joint damage, have low back pain, tight hips, sciatica, or sore knees, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

It seems like a lot of folks just fold one leg in front of the other and sit, doesn’t it? Yoga’s second most famous cross-legged seated position (aside from the controversial lotus pose) is sukhasana, which is often translated as “easy seat.” When I learned that during teacher training I gave a sarcastic laugh and mentioned that sitting cross-legged was just about the least comfortable way I could think to sit.

One ankle always fell asleep, I felt like I was rounding in my lower back, my knees were practically up to my chest, and eventually that feeling in the lower back transformed into a dull ache that lasted for hours.

Like many asanas, I assumed that finding ease in this posture was about patience. Just as a childhood full of swimming butterfly had given me a strong back and shoulders, it had also created solid muscles in my hips. And I was not the most intelligent athlete as a younger person. I focused my efforts on strength and endurance with little care about flexibility. So I built those solid, strong muscles, but never allowed them to be pliable. Asking them to simply release, relax, and lengthen right away wasn’t going to happen.

So how could I find a comfortable seat? Even though we almost always meditated after asana practice when the muscles were warmer, it still felt plain uncomfortable every time. It was frustrating because I tried so hard to shut out the fiery soreness that radiated almost like sciatica down my leg that I lost the plot entirely.

Did you ever try sitting on a block?

Wait, I can do that?

I don’t know why this was such a revelation to me. We encourage students to use props in order to help the body align properly in all sorts of asanas. For some reason, I always thought that doing so for meditation meant that I lacked discipline of a sort.

Finding a quiet place within is challenging in a cacophonous world, so why make it any harder than it needs to be? Why not support yourself? And by support yourself, I mean in the literal and figurative sense. Be kind to yourself and be okay with the idea that sitting cross-legged on the floor is not an easy, comfortable seat for you.

Then take one that is! Imagine how much more you could go inside if you weren’t thinking about your foot falling asleep or sore hips?  Imagine what deeper places you could explore if you took the time to eliminate a distraction that doesn’t need to be there?

It’s not a compromise, it’s accommodating your body with compassion.

The world lost one of yoga’s great lights this week. B.K.S Iyengar is the man credited with bringing yoga to the western world. The Iyengar yoga lineage is highly focused on proper alignment in order to facilitate a more profound, deep experience in yoga practice. Mr. Iyengar refined the use of props in yoga in order to make poses accessible to students. Props can open up practice to individuals with physical limitations, support practitioners to work in a safe range of motion, highlight a particular quality in a posture, and/or allow students to balance the effort and surrender in each pose.

Simply putting a block under me raised my hips enough that my knees could relax down and away from my body. With knees no  longer above my hips and pulling on my lower back, the roundness dissipated and the pain down the back of my leg disappeared. My outer hip flexors sometimes get sore since my knees don’t touch the ground, and in those instances I also like to support them on the outside of the knees with blocks or bolsters.

Oh, and then I met the amazing Marianne Meyers who showed me this ultra-deluxe version with two blocks and a blanket. It’s like the royal throne of sukhasana. Seriously, try it. (And then go take one of Marianne’s therapeutic yoga classes and learn all of the ways to really be supported. Taking therapeutic yoga is one of the best things a practitioner of any level can do to learn about healthy movement.)

Sukhasana with blocks side-by-side covered with a blanket.

Sukhasana with blocks side-by-side covered with a blanket.

You don’t need anything special. A thick phone book, the afghan on the chair, even the cushions from the couch can be a prop.

The next time someone tells you to find a comfortable seat, take them seriously. Let it be a balance of ease and effort so that you can be open to receive the benefits of your practice.

Turning Inward

19 Aug

One of the branches on yoga’s 8-limbed path is called pratyahara, or “withdrawal of the senses.” It is turning inward and beginning to release attempts to exercise control over the external forces.


The past week and a half has weighed heavy. The light of an actor I respected and admired went out, my sister-in-law’s father went to peace after his battle with cancer, and then a friend was taken from the world in an accident so sudden I don’t know that I’ve actually wrapped my head around it. I still expect that the next time I visit where we once worked together, I will see my friend with her red coffee cup and mischievous smirk, giving me a half-annoyed grin because I didn’t bring cookies for the visit.

What is most difficult about the latter loss is that many of my friends and acquaintances also loved her. To watch so many people you care for grieving a loss is hard.

The grief I felt kept catching me off-guard. Out in Crystal City on Saturday morning, I saw within a crowd of shoppers a dark-haired woman wearing an orange sweater and did a double-take. There was a mistake! It wasn’t you. Or waiting for a receipt for parking and finding myself suddenly thinking about everyone from her supervisor, her fiancé, her family, the people she had coffee with every day, even her dog.

To ignore sadness and push it away so that I could go through the motions of teaching felt disingenuous. I turned to practice for healing and thought of pratyahara.

Pratyahara is the moment in yoga when we let go of attention to physical technique and turn inward. The senses are calmed down, no longer seeking to break down the constant flood of information. What we hear, smell, taste, touch, and see fall away, and we enter a place of tranquility. This does not happen overnight, and it is often incomplete. Some days I am able to close my eyes and let go of all that my vision is taking in, but it is not so easy to simply notice sounds and let them pass by. The curious mind wonders, What is that? Where is it coming from? Oh, that reminds me! I need to…

No. I don’t need to do anything. Let go.

In practicing pratyahara, we often return to pranayama (breath control), the limb that comes just before pratyahara. If you’ve been in a yoga class, perhaps a teacher has said to you, “If thoughts become intrusive, just listen to your breathing.” The breath is a tool, even a guide, for accessing this internal space.

I realized that while highly inappropriate to my pass the grief I felt along to my students, this experience of pratyahara might help them access the places within their own selves that were in need of healing. I came across a passage from Rolf Gates’ Meditations from the Mat that pinpointed it eloquently:

“Letting go of our pain is not an overnight affair, but the process quickly gains momentum. It’s a little like water moving through a hole in a dam. First, there is just a trickle, then a small flow, then before you know it there is a torrent. The most miraculous part of this process is in the trickle stage. This is when you see the dramatic courage, the thrilling movement and change. It is the addict’s first few months of sobriety, the battered woman leaving home for good, the forty-something businessperson leaving a job and going to medical school. It’s picking up the pieces after a great loss. It’s trying again after bitter failure. This is the time when you find out who your friends are and what a friend really is. Later, once the flow has become established, the work changes. Now the challenge is in staying green and fresh, remaining established in a beginner’s mind. Pratyahara is right down there at ground zero, in the field where heroes are made. It is our first steps into the light. The remaining limbs on the eight-limb path are about maintenance and growth. Pratyahara is about beginnings.”

I am a firm believer that the universe sends us what we need, and it is no mistake that my book fell open to that page when I sought comfort. I put my trust in the honesty of that message and read it to a room of students meditating in a supported heart-opening posture. Throughout the rest of our practice together, I challenged them to close their eyes as we went through asanas.

Listen to your body; it will not lie to you. We can tell ourselves all sorts of messages in our minds, but the body will never lie to you. It can’t. Feel the life entering and the excess exiting with every cycle of breath. You don’t have to control anything.

Afterward, I was thanked by several students. I was astounded by their kind words; some had never had a yoga experience like that before that morning. It is a challenge—how do we retreat inward when right outside the door is a shopping mall buzzing with people?

We simply try. We make a new beginning.

today is your day

The necklace I wear daily with a “Today is your day! / New beginning” charm that my mom gave me earlier this year, and diamond circle from Joe that he gave me in 2005.

Pratyahara is starting to pick up the pieces and doing the work because we choose to thrive. When we stop needing to control everything—our joy, our suffering, even the moments that feel mundane—we make space for real healing, new growth, and the chance to experience a deeper connection to all living things.

And the part of it that seems almost like it should be magic is the most genuine truth of all. When we recognize that connection, the realization comes that no one is ever really gone.

Read about the brilliant, funny, and delightful Nadia here.


Expanding the Sky

15 Aug

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a collection of 196 sutras, or aphorisms, that together constitute one of the foundational texts of yoga study. I was instantly fascinated by this sort of road map for yoga practice when I discovered it, and during my teacher training we were asked to memorize several of the passages from the first book. I was never very good at plain memorization, but if you sing something to me I’ll remember it for a lifetime. So each morning as part of my personal practice, I chant the first four:

1.1 Atha Yogānuśāsanam – Now, the study of yoga.
1.2 Yogaś citta vṛitti narodhaḥ – Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.
1.3 Tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe’vasthānam – Then the seer abides in his own nature.
1.4 Vṛitti sārūpyam itaratra – In states other than yoga, the seer conforms to the modifications of the mind.

This physical ritual allows me to begin each day with the awareness and intention of new effort toward yoga, or union with the True Self and the universal consciousness. Like any ritual or prayer, it can be easy to fall into the trap of letting the words fall out of the mouth without meaning. But I have discovered that even on the days where I feel the most distracted, this simple practice becomes a way of re-grounding myself and re-committing to the work: “Now I practice. When the mind is still and calm, I will have found a state of yoga (union) and will connect will my eternal, peaceful self. When the mind is not in a state of yoga, I identify with ideas and thought forms that are not my real self.”

Washington, DC - Early October, 2012

Washington, DC morning sky – October 2012

Whew, that’s a tall order. Consider how often the mind is running away with a thousand thoughts: I really need to fix that bookshelf. Is there money in the checking account for this? Did I turn off the oven? I need to take the dog to the vet. Traffic is so bad today. Ugh, that woman running looks so fit—I’m so out of shape. The car is making a funny noise. The house is a mess.

That bookshelf might be sagging, but it’s holding the books just fine. And if it wasn’t, would it really make so much of a difference if the books were simply stacked in a corner? Who is the bookshelf for? Is it for me to easily find my books or is it an ego-trip so that guests might admire my collection of reading materials? In traffic, I can either sit there gritting my teeth and feeling irritated, or let it go and accept that it’s where I’m at. What will be will be. And as for that lady I’m watching jog, I’m considering only her physical form and comparing it to my own. Making a judgment about her and myself based purely on the visual. Talk about putting yourself (or others) in a box, right?


Berlin, Germany evening sky – July 2012

In Swami Satchidananda’s commentary on the sutras, he writes that, “We cannot reach the goal by mere words alone. Without practice, nothing can be achieved.” So after the initial introduction in sutra 1.1, the entire collection is devoted to instruction on practice for achieving the state described in sutra 1.2.

I really wrestled with sutra 1.2 when I began contemplating it. I kept thinking, “But if the mind is completely still, the person is dead. No brain activity, no life.”


Paradise Island, Bahamas afternoon sky – April 2012

After turning that over in my head for a while, I was graced by a teacher and friend who offered a way of looking at it that I’d not considered. If we think of the mind as a sky, the thoughts become clouds. Some are heavy, slow-moving, and overwhelming, while others seem so light and transparent that they disappear from view before we have a chance to even consider their shape.
In yoga practice, it is not that we strive to make the clouds disappear or go away, but that we work toward expanding the sky. The greater the sky, the smaller the clouds seem. The more we expand our horizon and view of our place within the universe, the less the mind-chatter and false identification seem significant. It is not that these things no longer exist, we are simply no longer attached to them or focused on them as we once were. And in the stillness of that detachment we find yoga.

Chincoteauge Island, VA afternoon sky - July 2013

Chincoteauge Island, VA afternoon sky – July 2013

That kind of detachment and soft focus remain a challenge for me, but I try to appreciate and cherish the moments of stillness. I try to identify with how I feel in those moments, so that I can return there more readily in the future. And sometimes it’s only a fraction of a sliver more space added to the sky, but each day it is a reaffirmation that I am a growing, thriving being.


“Thoughts are like traces of birds in heaven.”